Talking and Listening

During my 10 years working for a design studio in Tokyo, I once worked on a project for a brand of Japanese green tea with a tradition and history spanning over a century.

In contemporary Japan, cheap readymade tea consumed from plastic bottles is ubiquitous and people willing to brew their own pot of tea had become a minority. From the farmers who grow the tea leaves to the tea makers, the traditional tea industry was languishing — it was in this climate that I was asked to work with them.

I researched extensively into the subtle and complex characteristics of tea production. From talking with and listening to the tea makers, I learned that in order to create a consistent tea flavor every year, most tea brands including the bottled tea brands blend together a vast array of different tea leaves from different farms. The process results in making the tea brands taste similar. This dulling of the flavors and characteristics of tea creates an environment whereby consumers no longer have any idea of how different teas taste, making them apathetic to the potential choice that they have.

A common knee-jerk way to tackle this had been for some tea brands to use flashy packaging, flavored tea and easy to use tea bags. But in researching into the relationship between the makers and the consumers, we decided to not go this route, and arrived at the challenge of retaining the essence of the tea itself, to bring the tea to the fore and to convey and condense the beauty and essence of tea in the branding.

The question was how to create an experience that would allow Japanese people to rediscover tea, to reset something so over-familiar, how to reset the tongue, so to speak. We decided to make a product of tea using only one particular kind of tea leaf produced by one particular farmer.

Despite their unarguable convenience, tea bags suffocate the tea leaves, leaving them unable to fully expand, thwarting the full potential of its flavor and aroma. We learned that if people were given the chance to learn and experience the joys of tea making, they were more than willing to engage.

We designed a space in the shop where customers could take a moment to enjoy brewing tea. In this space, the customers would see the appropriate methods of brewing the tea— from the kind of tea pot designed to maximize the tea’s potential, the correct amount of tea to use, the temperature, the time to brew the tea etc. All of which was conveyed and communicated through the packaging, tools, logo and interior of the space.

In talking with and listening to the tea makers, and creating a space and experience for the brand that allowed them to engage with the customers and vice versa, we found focus.

Search for and tell stories about people, not just data.

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